by Jonny Atkinson
FOMO—the Fear-of-Missing-Out—was coined to describe this phenomenon that has been produced by the never-ending access to news that we have today through modern media. It is the fear of missing out on some “hot take” that motivates you to then search for said hot take. If you’ve instinctively grabbed your phone—for no apparent reason—and opened your social media and started looking for something, you’ve been overpowered by FOMO. There’s so much to consume so we keep scrolling for more. Nobody wants to be left behind (sorry for triggering some of you Kirk Cameron fans).
“Far be it from me, that I may miss a trending topic. May Genoito!” (Twitteronomy 6:15–16)
“I have determined to know nothing among you except where you went last night, what you ate for dinner, and who you went with.” (FaceScroll 2:19)
FOMO is really real. Psychologists have documented the real effect it is having. FOMO is associated with nomophobia (the fear of not having your phone), marked by addictive behaviours, and it results in low self-esteem and emotional instability.
“Oh foolish Millennials! Who has bewitched you? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive more likes organically, or by boosting your post?” (Zuckerbergiah 11:2–3)
“You have heard that it was said “when you pray, shut your door and pray to the Father in secret” but I say to you “share a photo of your open Bible, highlighter, and coffee mug with a sweet hashtag.” (Instagramians 4:7–8)
But for Christians, there’s another fear that ought to be even more real and that results, not in emotional instability, but in a fruitful life. This is biblical FOMO. Biblical FOMO is not a fear of missing some “news” that will be forgotten in a day or two. It is a fear of missing out on the joy of eternal life and the accompanying rewards that motivates you to lay your life down for Jesus.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23
Biblical fear-of-missing-out also motivates. We don’t like to be motivated by fear, at least not in our relationship with Jesus. Fear sounds too much like duty. We want to be motivated by love and do things because of delight. Granted, this is also biblical (2 Corinthians 5:14). But being motivated by fear is also biblical, and human.
It is human, because when we see something dangerous we run. When we see that the outcomes of our actions would be disastrous, we change course. If we were ever to meet a lion in the road, not many of us would stand there and think, “running away right now just feels too much like duty, I want to conjure up some mushy lovey-dovey feelings so that all people who see my running may know that it has arisen from sheer delight and not duty.”
It is also biblical. The warning passages in Hebrews are designed to motivate genuine Christians to greater fidelity. When Christians are warned, they fearfully take heed and respond appropriately by fleeing the danger they were in.
And anyway, love and fear are really two sides of the same coin. We turn away from sin because we are afraid of the results—I fear grieving the Holy Spirit—but we are also turning to something because we love it—I love to please the Father. So, it’s ok at times to be motivated unto faithfulness by fear.
Biblical Fear Motivates a Fruitful Life
So what does biblical fear motivate? Here are a few things that come to mind:
- Evangelism. Usually fear leads us to not evangelize. But that is shallow fear. For fear of man and wanting to save face for a moment, we risk losing something greater. Jesus reminds us, whoever denies him before men, He will deny before His angels (Matt 10:33). Real Christians hear that and real fear causes them to say “I can’t NOT tell them I’m a Christian. Yeah it might be weird and awkward, but I cannot deny him before men. I am not missing out on heaven.” [This isn’t a guilt trip, we all mess up at evangelism, and even those have denied Jesus can be restored, like Peter (John 21:15)]
- Repentance. Christians can’t keep on sinning (1 John 3:10). Of course, we still sin (1 John 1:8), but not over and over in the same sin without any remorse or repentance. For if we do keep sinning deliberately, there is no sacrifice for our sins, but only a fearful expectation of judgement (Heb 10:26-27). The fear of eternal judgement causes Christians to flee sin, confess their hidden sin, and repent from their sin.
- Orthodoxy. Real Christians realize there are false teachers, wolves in sheeps clothing—even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. And the intent of these teachers is to mislead in doctrine. This is no light matter, because people “depart from the faith” due to the “teaching of demons” and “insincerity of liars” (1 Timothy 4:1). In other words, false teaching leads people to hell. A biblical fear-of-missing-out drives us to protect (2 Timothy 1:14) and pass on (2 Timothy 2:2) pure orthodox biblical teaching, contending for the faith (Jude 3), and rebuking false teaching (Tit 1:9) so that no-one would miss out because of our teaching.
- Perseverance. Perseverance is really a catch all, not a specific action, but to keep on being a Christian, living the Christian life, and holding onto the faith. Fear of missing out causes us to keep going in the worst of times. When times get tough and people fall away from the faith, and the thought comes close to entering our mind of giving up, real Christians say “where else would I go though? In you alone is eternal life” (John 6:68). In stormy times we cling to Jesus for fear of missing out.
Miss Out Now to Gain Later
Above all, biblical fear-of-missing-out motivates us to sacrifice. The paradox of the Christian life is one of loss = gain. And so, biblical fear-of-missing-out is inversely related to the secular FOMO of today. What I mean is, if your biblical fear-of-missing-out increases, your secular FOMO ought to drastically decrease. Because biblical fear will drive you to live a fruitful life and so you are willing to miss out now to gain later. Fear of losing eternal life leads you to lose your life for Jesus today.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:25-26)
You might miss a trending topic, because you were praying to the Father. You might miss a hot take, because you were making a meal for a sick saint. You might not have been able to add your “like” to that photo because you were caring for the orphan. You might have missed that Facebook party because you were visiting a widow. You might have missed that Instagram live because you were meeting the needs of the poor. You might not have been able to read that Twitter thread to the end because you spent time reading the Word of eternal life.
And beware (that’s what Jesus said: “beware”) of snapping a picture of your good works and adding a hashtag #humbleservant for the small reward of a few comments (“wow! You’re such a saint! Love you!). Remember, what your Father sees in secret, He will reward (Matt 6:1).
So Christian, make the best use of the time (Eph 5:16) and do not be mastered by secular FOMO (1 Corinthians 6:12). Stop scrolling and set your phone down. Open your Bible, write a letter to that saint, go care for the poor, pray to the Father, share the gospel, turn from sin, and let biblical fear-of-missing-out play its role in keeping your hand on the plow for a fruitful ministry (Luke 9:62).